The Mind Museum is the first comprehensive and expansive science museum in the Philippines, nestled within Bonifacio Global City’s thriving urban landscape. It contains over 250 interactive exhibits in its five interconnected galleries, with over 90 percent of these exhibits designed by Filipinos.
I found out that this museum breaks stereotypes about science, breaks the barriers between science and art, and is so heartbreakingly good that, if you do not have kids, you would be made to wish you have your own to bring here. Above all, while the museum is largely designed to appeal mostly to children and teenagers, it breaks through your adult defenses and exposes the proverbial child within.
A good start
A giant chocolate bar with a giant fly on top stands right at the opening of the Mind Museum’s first gallery, Atom. The chocolate bar is suspended in mid-air and melting away before a sea of atoms that are likewise afloat. This installation is but one of many representations on how the museum can take rather metaphoric interpretations of scientific facts, such as the atom being the most basic unit of matter Inside Atom, we encounter towering multi-colored test tubes, enlarged silver-plated letterings of equations and formulas raised on the wall, and giant black atoms as chairs scattered around a classroom for holding special demonstrations or mini-lectures. By blowing up the unseen and the abstract, the child observer is, in a way, prepared for the museum’s bigger lessons.
The Atom gallery pushes all the right buttons to spur the child’s interest, using both simple and sophisticated installations. There’s the good old Newton’s Cradle made up of huge white and blue balls, demonstrating Newton’s third law of motion: there is an equal or opposite reaction to every action. Kids are enjoined to move a ball from one side of the installation for them to see the effect of how a ball moves at the opposite end. The installation may well be a good reminder of how natural laws reflect simple life truths: we get what we give. It was awesome to see children picking up the lesson, alternately moving a ball or two, or three, to see how just as much will move at the other end.
More technical installations provide the other element of Mind Museum that no child-oriented museum should ever be short of: entertainment. I roused laughs from kids when I touched the shimmering Static Van De Graaff ball. No kid would dare try it out, fearing they might get electrocuted, so I volunteered to be a model for the demo. After they saw my hairs all raised up, after their fill of laughing, and after I’ve let go of the ball, they began lining up as well for some of the hair-raising action.
In the Life gallery, the video “Theories in How Life Began” exposes kids to the basics of the primordial soup theory, and the theory on how space microbes may have been the ones that started life on earth. This presentation jives with another video presentation that caps a tour of the gallery, about the thinkers who introduced the two most significant theories of natural selection: Charles Darwin with his Origin of the Species theory, and Alfred Russel Wallace, the Father of Biogeography. But these presentations only begin, then cap, a string of interactive exhibits that creatively illustrate the full spectrum of the development of life.
“The Evolution of Mammals” invites children to step inside a glass tunnel showing models of fishes, reptiles and birds, set side by side to afford them a better grasp of how changes in the environment led to the gradual physical transformation of these species. Meanwhile, the installation “Rooms Of Life” segments the species through glass divisions that vary in sizes, where species that number more occupy the larger allocations in the installation. The exhibit enlightens kids with the fact that mammals are actually outnumbered by bacteria, fungi, insects and plants, leading them to see the greater role that we all ought to carry out in safeguarding an Earth whose greater part mankind does not even occupy.
Another notable exhibit in Life is “How Humans Taste,” where a giant tongue lined with bulbs lightens up when a button representing a taste is pressed. The installation reveals that contrary to what old science schoolbooks teach, the human tongue has no partition for each taste, proven by all the bulbs (standing for taste buds) lighting up regardless of what taste button is pressed. Topping that, the installation also informs students about the “fifth” taste, umami (Japanese for “pleasant savory taste”), first identified by chemist and professor Kikunae Ikeda in 1908. This taste – distinct from sweet, sour, salty and bitter – is characterized by a mild, lasting aftertaste that is pleasantly “indescribable” according to scientists, and induces salivation.
The face of the Earth
Apart from the layered wall designs, which reflects Mind Museum’s thrust on creative renderings of the installations, the gallery Earth aims to show major changes that our planet has undergone throughout time. First stop is the Petting Zoo, where I joined kids in inserting our hands inside dark holes bearing simulated skin surfaces of select animals, then guessing whether we have touched a dog or a crocodile. A second fun stop is the Animal Sound Cave, where children are again made to guess animal sounds based on every button they press. I dunked along with the kids into the cave but they were a lot sharper in guessing the sounds more than me.
Another bestseller installation among kids is Earthquake Intensity. A miniature cityscape shakes to varying degrees depending on the button pressed, each one standing for a rating under the Richter scale. While the landscape can be reset to restore the buildings, the installation showed that great damage can be expected from an earthquake once it hits the intensity seven scale. Even the tallest buildings in the installation crashed, and the children could not have enough resetting the landscape and trying out all the other earthquake buttons.
Through “What A Difference A Day Makes,” we are shown 4.6 billion years of life on Earth and its evolution capsulized in 24 hours, within a series of intricate and colorful illustrations. The formation of Earth’s early atmosphere, oceans and crust occur at 12 AM, and much of primitive development follows within the next hours. Early humans appeared only by around 11 PM, while the most significant human milestones such as the rise of agriculture, cities, and the industrial revolution all occur only within the last minute of the presentation, at 11:59 PM. This points to the fact that primitive development of life on Earth actually took more time than our own man-made progresses.
Crowning the gallery is a spotlighted model of the Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton. I was as amazed as the children were to see and touch a rock that is apparently a fossilized dinosaur poop, along with fossilized leg bone and other dinosaur bone fossils. For those who wish for photo oppurtunites with the dinosaur, an easily navigable staircase may be taken to get head-level with the T-Rex.
Across the universe
In the Universe gallery, I passed the time examining the fi gure of the eight planets in the Giant Ornery, patterned after what the astrologer Nicolaus Copernicus demonstrated in 1543, while waiting to get inside the Planetarium for a screening of American Museum of Natural History (AMNH)’s Cosmic Collisions. Other attractions kept me busy before the screening, such as the installation The Sky Is Falling, which informs us that since scientists have ran out of names to assign to certain heavenly bodies, they have begun using the names of The Beatles, such that today, there are two asteroids (4147 Lennon and 4148 McCartney) and two planetoids (4149 Harrison and 4150 Starr) named after the Fab Four.
Narrated by legendary actor-director Robert Redford, Cosmic Collissions explains how natural collisions in space have led to the formation of life on Earth and how the forces generated from these collisions sustain life. According to AMNH, collisions have resulted in many things we take for granted, like the moon, the sun, the changing seasons and the waves from the sea. The collisions ended the age of dinosaurs, reformed galaxies and gave birth to heavenly bodies such as new stars and planets. These were ably illustrated by the animated documentary, which drew awe from both the kids and myself as we all sat comfortably in the fully decked screening hall, looking up at fi ery spheres crisscrossing in the dark, across the dome.
Quality of life
I expected robots and gadgets to greet me as I stepped into Technology, the fi nal gallery of Mind Museum. Instead, I went through a line-up of installations that showed how the most practical of tools, such as the Spinning Jenny and the Seed Drill, or the most basic of necessities such as shoes and refrigeration, have contributed to improve human life, and how they led to the rise of the most enduring industries.
Installations on recording and recycling are but a few samples. A huge black ball-like structure encapsulating a video presentation on the byte, a unit of digital information in computing and telecommunications, explains the evolution of recording from libraries to museums, to digital storage. It reminds us of the basic human need for self-preservation and clearly ties up with the installation on paper recycling and consumption; writing and printing, after all, are some of our earliest means of recording. An installation on renewable energy such as solar and wind serves as a great reminder for children on how emerging clean technologies can support the needs of our current industries.
The goal of the Technology gallery is to present technology as something that shapes our lifestyles on all fronts. Thus it does not stop on aspects of human living that obviously need technology such as transportation, energy and health. To complete the full lifestyle treatment, the gallery shows how technology is present and useful even in the appreciation of the arts.
In a surprising take on language and literature, Technology presents passages from the Philippines’ and the world’s most revered literary works in panels that are accompanied by blood pressure measuring devices. Children and guests are enjoined to attach the device on their fingertips and read from their chosen passages, then compare their blood pressure readings with every text. Apart from seeing how a passage from “Catcher In The Rye” can still make my blood go, I saw a nun, accompanying a group of teenage boys from a Christian school, read sensual lines from a verse by Sappho. I may have never known how her blood pressure rose to that, but it was delightful to see how our humanity can be affirmed by the most unexpected of agents. Within the Mind Museum, by science.